One of my mother’s favorite quotes was “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” And had the three couples in Alan Ayckbourn’s “How The Other Half Loves” heeded those words, they’d have avoided a rather unpleasant string of encounters that threatened to split apart their marriages. But then again, where would the fun in that be – especially for theatergoers who like farcical comedies?
Ayckbourn’s ninth comedy, first produced in 1969 and now playing at Broadway Onstage Live Theatre in Eastpointe, examines what happens when the cover-up of a secret affair between the wife of a businessman and one of his employees spins out of control. Unable to adequately explain their whereabouts to their respective spouses, Bob Phillips (Charles Davis) tells Teresa (Sharron Nelson) that he was out till 2 a.m. having drinks with coworker William Detweiler (John Arden McClure), while Fiona Foster (Krista Schafer) explains to Frank (Christopher Oakley) that she was out with William’s wife, Mary (Stella Roth). Why, the gullible spouses are told? Each of the Detweilers assumes the other is having an affair – and both needed a friend to talk to.
The only affair is between Bob and Fiona, of course. However, since Teresa is looking for a cause to champion and Frank believes it’s his duty to keep his employees morally on track, each invites the Detweilers to dinner – unbeknownst to one another and on consecutive nights. And that’s when the REAL fireworks begin!
Ayckbourn connects the story by having it portrayed simultaneously in the living rooms of the upper class Fosters and the not-so well-to-do Phillips – both of which are seen side by side, but are supposed to be several blocks apart. Although there is little overlapping dialogue, furniture is often shared by both families and characters occasionally cross from “their” side of the set to the other. It’s a clever concept designed to maximize the script’s storytelling potential, which comes to fruition when both dinner parties are shown at the same time – which requires some very tight timing on the part of all six actors. (The first time Teresa walks across the stage – passing in front of the Fosters in the process – was a bit jarring, however, but you quickly get used to it.)
All of the actors are Broadway Onstage regulars. Of particular note are personal Onstage favorites Nelson, who excels at playing downtrodden housewives, and Schafer, who shines as haughty rich folk; both are always a joy to watch.
Oakley, however, is too overblown here and rarely varies his delivery.
Also problematic is Donna Disante’s direction. Although her production has some very funny moments – such as the aforementioned dinner party scene – her glacial pacing fails to deliver much of the humor Ayckbourn built into his script. (Farces require snappy banter and quick – sometimes overlapping – entrances and exits, for example.)
Attention to detail is also lacking. Set in 1978, I suspect the gift bag Frank handed Fiona hadn’t been invented yet. And I sincerely doubt Bob and Teresa would have the Detroit Legal News delivered to their door every morning. Plus, home phone numbers were not found in the Yellow Pages.
Yet despite these flaws, “How the Other Half Loves” delivers an amusing night of laughs that serves to reinforce an important lesson taught us by our mothers. (How’d the always know when we were lying?)
‘How the Other Half Loves’
Broadway Onstage, 21517 Kelly Road, Eastpointe. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday through March 23. 2 hours, 10 minutes, with intermission. $18. 586-771-6333. http://www.BroadwayOnStage.com